If you’re like me, you read plenty of articles on the Internet. I still prefer reading articles to watching videos, which are a bigger time-waster (when you prefer to get the gist of something briefly, sorting quickly through any verbal diarrhea, and then move on). Some articles have click bait titles that seduce a reader to click on them. And like a lot of people, I’m a sucker for beautiful islands. So I clicked on an article that promised, “100 under-the-radar islands everyone should visit in their lifetime.”
Most such articles are sad excuses for a slideshow, how-many-times-can-we-get-you-to-click-on-our-site-so-we-can-sell-more-ads. This one, to its credit, fit all of its photos on one long page.
The article has plenty of pictures of nice islands to visit. And I have no issue with the text, which is okay. But the title is detestable. It is so bad that it has prompted me to write this post about language. Specifically, consider the proper use of certain words if the author does not wish unintended consequences.
Timeout for this Author to Take a Deep Breath
You may become increasingly convinced that I am a language snob. This is true; I am. If you are familiar with the book Eats Shoots and Leaves, it is a modern classic, containing some basic help for aspiring writers. In the following passage, Eats author Lynne Truss addresses how language snobs view poor use of language:
To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as “Thank God its Friday” (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word “it’s” (with apostrophe) stands for “it is” or “it has”. If the word does not stand for “it is” or “it has” then what you require is “its”. This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave. --Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots and Leaves, Avery (2004)
Yup. Though I’ve never considered myself a grammar or punctuation fascist, I am slightly obsessive-compulsive when it comes to using words well. And that quote from Truss, above, illustrates how I feel when I see the language butchered. I am her “average stickler”. I have good patience for amateurs and second-language learners, but not for so-called professionals. Someone writing a big article and presumably getting paid for it should have a proficient command of the English language.
Of course, the possibility remains that the title was supplied by an editor who slapped it on there after the piece was written and submitted. That scenario is even worse, but it would not surprise me either. If the title came from an editor, that person has no business serving in such a position.
Let us take that title and knock some holes in it
Just so you don’t need to go back to Paragraph 1 to re-read it, the title is: “100 under-the-radar islands everyone should visit in their lifetime.” Maybe I’ll start by taking my fly-swatter and whacking out the word “everyone”. “Everyone” can best be defined as roughly 7.6 BILLION people who live on the planet earth. That’s a whole lot of people taking vacations!
Second, let us focus on that phrase, “should visit in their lifetime”. “Lifetimes”, you mean? “Their” suggests plural and we already know it’s supposed to refer to the entire population of planet earth. Using “should” creates either an obligation (as it is most commonly used) or a heavy suggestion. Either way, the reader feels bullied.
More importantly, what concerns me is that even if the title is directed at just one person (me, for example), it instructs that person to do something inhuman:
I have to visit 100 little-known islands before I die?
Here are some issues with that proposition.
1: Time required.
Let’s say I work full-time at a job in the United States. For the fortunate among us, many such jobs offer two weeks of vacation per year. These suggested islands are far-flung, all across the world. A few might be fairly close to home, quick trips of a few days, including travel time. Others, especially obscure islands in other parts of the globe, may take a week just to get to and from, much less any days to spend time there.
So we’ll keep it simple and allow one week for each trip. Two weeks of vacation time means visiting two islands per year.
Visiting them all will take me 50 years.
That’s a lot of travel.
The cost of an average vacation trip is $1145, as calculated last year by a travel organization. That’s probably a low estimate when we’re talking about trips to islands, some of which are remote. Getting to islands can require an extra travel leg (or two or three) than most vacations do. Some are only accessible by boat. Cha-ching. And don’t bother taking anyone else along on your 100 vacations for the next 50 years.
Total cost of visiting these 100 ‘must see’ destinations before you die: at least $114,500, not accounting for inflation between now and the end of your bucket list. Most of the population of planet earth could not afford that in a lifetime. I'll bet the author or editor who penned that title probably couldn't afford to visit 100 islands either.
When you write something, please think about what the words mean.
Instead of “everyone” (defined by the entire earth’s population), how about “you”? Instead of “should” (which is awfully pushy and imperative), how about “should consider”? Change “visit” to “visiting” and convert the pronoun appropriately. An acceptable title, then, could be something like “100 under-the-radar islands you should consider visiting in your lifetime.” Ah, that makes me feel much better. The world has been healed. Now I can sleep soundly.
All images are public domain.